The NCAA men’s basketball scandal that’s bubbling up alongside the NFL’s kneel-don’t-kneel headlines has been a long time in the making — and to borrow an adjective from a president who already has lots of folks blowing their stacks, yes, the NCAA scandal is yuuuge.
Perhaps yuuuger than you imagine.
The allegations and arrests announced Tuesday by the FBI and other federal authorities are but the tip of an ever-moving iceberg, and the most high-profile character implicated so far is Rick Pitino, the college and pro basketball guru who was kicked down the sewer by the University of Louisville within 24 hours of the shocking NCAA news.
If you haven’t been able to follow or get why this the NCAA mess is so important, forthwith comes the schemes.
A man named Louis Martin “Marty” Blazer III founded Blazer Capital Management, a personal services advisory firm geared toward athletes. The federal Securities and Exchange Commission charged him in 2016 with a Ponzi-like scheme that took money from one or more clients to pay to one or more others. The Blazer probe dates back to 2010 money-grubbing.
The NCAA probe dates to 2015, and here’s the real eye-opener if you need it: Blazer signed a plea agreement admitting guilt to five federal criminal charges after he wired up and let the coaches talk their way into trouble.
CNBC also reported that the Pittsburgh-based Blazer also “was accused of a 14-year-long wire fraud scheme in which he made ‘payments and loans to NCAA athletes in order to induce those student-athletes to retain the defendant as a financial advisor and/or business manager.’ ”
And therein lies another scheme: Sign with a “student-athlete” to School A, sign financial management services over to Company B and put the management services in the hands of Sports Agent C.
Ignorant kids and their families never fully grasp that they’re signing up for a lifetime of the NCAA Slavery Act. No 40 acres, no mules.
If you still hunger for perspective on the NCAA men’s basketball scandal, here’s what Sonny Vaccaro, the Nike marketing whiz who signed Michael Jordan from Jump Street, had to say to ESPN: “Every kid that I knew was probably picking a Nike school. There was Georgetown and Patrick [Ewing]. There were a lot of other reasons that he went there. Going back to the ’80s, they were all Nike schools. We had 80 of them. We won seven national championships in 11 years. So I would be cutting my face off [to favor a particular Nike school]. Maybe that kept me out of trouble, but I don’t think I ever would have done that. Then, you had the ’90s and the great players went pro [from high school]. Kobe [Bryant] and those guys didn’t go to college. Tracy [McGrady] and Kobe, Kevin [Garnett] and LeBron [James] — these kids didn’t go to college.”
For Adidas, Mr. Vaccaro scored Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady, then later worked for Reebok.
And although this next insider is no longer with us, Chuck Taylor was arguably the genius in the basketball marketing tree. Born in South-Central Indiana in 1901, Taylor had played high school basketball in Converse All-Stars, went to the company in search of a job in 1923 and was hired.
He persuaded the boss to make a few design changes to the sneaker and voila! — in 1932 the Converse All-Stars became the Chuck Taylor All Stars. Taylor earned the honor after hustling around the country selling the sneakers and branding the Converse shoe as the top basketball and athletic shoe.
Another native Louisiana basketballer, Joe Dean, who was 19 years Taylor’s junior, once said this about Taylor after he had become athletic director at Louisiana State: “It was impossible not to like him, and he knew everybody. If you were a coach and you wanted to find a job, you called Chuck Taylor. Athletic directors talked to him all the time when they were looking for a coach.”
Then as now. The major difference is that Ponzi schemes and financial hawks prey upon greedy.
So do not expect Rick Pitino to become the only scapegoat in the top drawer. The NCAA holds all the cards when it comes to collegiate sports, and its biggest moneymaker is March Madness.
In fact, in 2014, the NCAA generated nearly $1 billion in revenue, and about 90 percent of that came from the Big Dance (or March Madness for you novices) — the Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Most of those dollars flow to division perennials such as Louisville, and so far all of the coaches who have been named and nabbed are tied to public Division I schools.
A stunning coincidence, huh?
What’s more stunning is that the NCAA is a nonprofit organization that organizes and regulates athletic activities at 1,281 institutions. It holds the reins of “student-athletes” in white-knuckle fashion.
Perhaps the NCAA scandal will lead free-market folks to unpurse their lips.
• Deborah Simmons can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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